Passionate from Miles Away

By Anika Richter



Although there are many methods for achieving social change, what helps propel your project and what inhibits it has become apparent to me over the past few months of my internship at Orora Global. What works for one organization may be completely wrong for another depending on the who, what, when, and where of the work being done. The nature of the work at Orora Global is in the realm of social entrepreneurship, which uses private business models to develop and implement solutions to community, social, and environmental issues. I have learned that having passion, knowing when to be flexible, and communicating clearly are extremely valuable for being successful overall as a social entrepreneur but especially so when one is working on place-based work from thousands of miles away.

Being passionate about the social cause motivating the work and believing 110% in it are the most important elements of success in achieving social change. When everyone from the CEO to the summer interns is passionate about the change they wish to bring about, there is motivation to complete even the most mundane tasks because one knows it is part of a larger goal. Having a strong personal connection to the issue at hand seems to make people more likely to completely commit themselves to a cause and be a team player. Whereas others may care some but also may be less willing to make sacrifices to help if they do not feel an emotional attachment to the underlying purpose of the work.

Aside from passion, flexibility and adaptability are essential to successful social change in social entrepreneurship. Savitha’s comfort with changing her approach and business model brought enormous success for Orora Global. Flexibility is vital because, once one begins to actually implement programs on the ground, more issues often arise that require adaptation to accommodate. It is important to understand what the community really wants and needs, and to adapt when what you anticipated ends up not quite meeting what the people there really need.

Savitha originally started Orora Global to simply provide solar-powered lanterns to women in a rural community in India. She taught them the skills necessary to sell the lanterns, thereby providing them a source of income. As she began working in the actual community, however, she realized that one of the largest problems was actually homelessness. And even for those with homes, they were vulnerable to having their homes destroyed by frequent floods. She saw that providing small lanterns would do little to help the community if they had no homes in the first place. As a result, she altered her approach, adding the construction of solar-powered homes to her business plan and adapting to the needs of the community even in the implementation of this new work.  Some communities began to voice concerns about the materials used to construct homes. Thus, Savitha had to be flexible and adapt her method, once again, to accommodate these concerns and began constructing solar-homes out of sturdy concrete materials rather than the bamboo used previously. Her level of adaptability and flexibility have no doubt contributed to Savitha’s success.

The flipside to being adaptable is know when not to be. Savitha is also willing to be inflexible when necessary—particularly with sticking to one’s beliefs and morals and keeping one’s ultimate goal of social change at the forefront. When people asked her to move away from her goal of empowering women and focus on aiding communities as a whole, she refused. She did so because her desire to empower women was one of her greatest motivators, and the reason for much of her success.

The final element of success I observed is the need for effective, clear, and prompt communication. As an organization grows and expands to incorporate more people, communities, and even countries, communication becomes more and more crucial to ensure everyone is on the same page and is able to accomplish what is really important. It is important because as the organizations scale up delegation can become necessary. And when an organization’s CEO is located thousands of miles away from the communities of focus, it is even more essential to be clear in communication about what is being delegated and to whom. Without being clear on expectations and responsibilities, people begin to feel lost and operations can even grind to a slow halt as no one is entirely sure what is needed of them. But sometimes effective communication requires traveling when the work is being done long distance because nothing beats in person meetings, which is why my next report will be from India.

To sum up, there seems to be no perfect formula to bring about social change, but from my time at Orora Global, I have found that passion for the issues at hand, flexibility of tactics and approaches, and clear, effective communication between all parties involved in the work can lead to successful social enterprises.